Wounded Warrior History Tour - Summer 2012
Our first stop into the Verdun battlefield memorial complex. André Maginot was a French public servant who left his position in government to fight in the war. He later became a prominent minister, responsible for building up France's defense system - known as the Maginot Line.
Inside the museum there is a central "pit" which resembles the ground of Verdun during the war. Pulverized by millions of artillery shells, this shows the shredded moonscape that was the face of trench warfare.
A key reason I approached the Wounded Warrior Project about doing this tour was for the perspective and community such a conflict might give some great American combat veterans. And these combat veterans on our tour were first class and showed an indomitable spirit. Luke shows the remarkable difference between the earliest artificial leg and that of today...
It truly was a special tour. It was a tremendous honor to take these great veterans and outstanding staff on this trip. They really are a special group of people. We quickly became a family after no time at all...
This building is the cornerstone to the entire battlefield memorial site - a massive crypt holding the bones of thousands upon thousands of unidentifiable war dead - German, French, and even civilians killed in the conflict. It is France's Arlington National Cemetery a hundred times over...
In each section on either side down the Ossuary's long halls are the names of villages that were part of the front (and wiped out of history by shellfire). Beneath them lie the bones found in that same part of the front.
The mass of bones piled beneath each upstairs memorial, full of the remains of the dead from each sector of the front.
Some say this resembles a sword, buried into the Earth, its hilt showing. Others think it resembles a giant artillery shell - fitting for the thousands upon thousands of men killed by artillery's dreadful power.
The view of one of the heavily fortified main guns of Fort Douaumont, from the top - in a much more tranquil, pastural setting.
Germany and France have since become close allies. It would take a second world war to make both countries see the futility in remaining at odds.
A short distance to the north was the scene of terrible fighting in the last year of the war, 1918. The Americans took over this sector of the line and saw significant fighting in this area.
This remains the largest American military cemetery in all of Europe. That's right. It's not in Normandy or Bastogne, as many might assume. WWI remains a subject seldom studied or valued in typical American studies and film. There's so much to learn...
Done with our study of WWI, we headed a short distance into Southern Belgium to the town of Bastogne. Scene of tremendous fighting at the end of the Second World War, we enjoyed a much more tranquil, enjoyable visit than previous American servicemen did. We stopped here for an evening meal before heading to our hotel. The next day would all be about WWII...
Shaped in a giant star, this memorial commemorates the United States and the many soldiers who fought and died here to stave off one final German offensive at the end of 1944. It would be Hitler's last gasp, as the war would be over by April of the following year.
Bob spoke to the group about the events leading up to the Battle of the Bulge. This small town in the hills and forests of the Ardennes had seven roads intersecting through it. It was a vital crossroads for the invading German tank units. American units distinguished themselves magnificently in this great contest.
SSgt. Luke Murphy, veteran of Iraq and member of the 101st Airborne, stands in front of the giant plaque commemorating his proud division's accomplishments in this battle.
This truly was a most important and enjoyable tour. What a great group of veterans and committed staff (many of whom are veterans as well).
These woods have been made famous in HBO's excellent mini-series, "Band of Brothers," based on Stephen E. Ambrose's best-selling book. It was here that Easy Company was dug into the woods. Two Easy favorites lost their legs in a brutal artillery shelling into the trees here...
And we certainly came here to pay tribute and learn plenty about this theater of the war, but we didn't forget the joy of each other's company, the privilege of travel, and the thanks of still being alive. The wounded veterans on this tour reminded the rest of that, most of all.